Abracadabra! OK, now drink.

Working as a family-owned outfitter is a lot like working at a hardware store in that you have to know what you’re talking about. If you don’t, your customers might die. And usually, in both worlds, the employees have to use the products to understand them. That means that you either become passionate about the activities your store endorses or you throw up your hands and quit. I was already outdoorsy before pinning on my Epic Sports nametag, so three years at the store just tended to enhance my outdoorsiness.

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki. Gulf Hagas Brook in the spring of 2009.

I learned all sorts of neat things about how polarized sunglass lenses are constructed. I also learned about the qualities of wool and synthetics, the wonders of Vibram and the makeup of lightweight carbon fiber kayak paddles. I’ve fitted backpacks, erected innovative tent designs and steamed nylon pants. I never stopped struggling with Thule and Yakima rack assembly.

But I will never forget the one tiny gadget – invented and manufactured in Blue Hill, Maine – that threw me for a loop. The SteriPEN. This little guy uses UV light to purify water, but how? How does light make something cleaner? Usually when I shine light on something, like the top of my refrigerator, it only accentuates how dirty it is. But my customers wanted to know, “How does it work?” I couldn’t very well hold up the wand-like instrument and say, “It’s magic. I promise it will make your water safe to drink when you’re out in the middle of the woods.” So I learned.

Photo courtesy of Hydro-Photon, Inc. The SteriPEN Freedom, a water purifier that uses UV technology to destroy viruses, bacteria and protozoans, is making a cup of water safe to drink.

Water contains all sorts of nasty stuff. In fact, according to the SteriPEN website (www.steripen.com), less than 1 percent of the Earth’s water can be used by people. What you don’t want in your water: bacteria, viruses and protozoan cysts such as giardia and cryptosporidium. These things make you sick. In fact, when the parasite cryptosporidium infects humans, symptoms are stomach pain, dehydration, nausea, vomiting, fever and weight loss. Try hiking out of the woods with this problem. It’s dangerous. And guess what the other name for a giardia infection is? Traveler’s diarrhea.

SteriPEN zaps these evil waterborne organisms. I’m sure you are picturing violet light rays burning microscopic monsters – I’m not sure what it looks like. SteriPEN’s UV lamp (which again, looks like a small wand) is placed in the water bottle and the rays destroy the DNA of all the bacteria, viruses and protozoan. The SteriPEN basically pelts them with photons. It’s an invisible battle, and you can make it happen.

Yes, I was a good salesperson. But SteriPEN is really a cool gadget, ask the people at TIME Magazine, who recently recognized SteriPEN as one of “The Top 100 All-Time Gadgets,” along with the artificial heart and iPod. Check out my recent BDN article on the Blue Hill company and their variety of magical wands at bangordailynews.com/2011/12/14/outdoors/blue-hill-outdoorsman-inventor-paves-the-way-to-safe-water-any-time-anywhere/.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.